A father yesterday broke down as he told an inquest how he tried to comfort his baby son who had sustained horrific injuries after falling from an upstairs window of their home in Midleton in Co Cork.
Vakaris Martinaitis, 2, died from serious head injuries two days after the fall at his family’s home in the Paddocks, Castleredmond, Midleton, on May 6.
The inquest into his death heard that while Kevin Hennessy, the neighbour who made the 999 call to emergency services, initially told gardaí on May 9 that he had told ambulance control the boy had fallen from a window, he made a second clarifying statement on May 27 saying he may not have said about the window.
A transcript of the call obtained for the inquest showed he had not said it.
At the start of the inquest, Vakaris’s emotional father Vidas Martinaitis told how he had been home with his son and the little boy’s sister Agneta on the day in question.
At about 1pm he was upstairs with his children. He went downstairs to steam the floor in the living room for Agneta’s Holy Communion. Agneta then came downstairs and ran to the window saying that Vakaris was outside.
Mr Martinaitis said he went to the window and saw the boy lying on the concrete outside. He climbed out the window because he could not find the key for the door and gently lifted his son and carried him to the grass.
Under questioning from Cork City Coroner Myra Cullinane, the little boy’s father said through an interpreter that there had been no conversation with his young daughter yet and the only thing he could think was that the little boy had fallen from the window, though he said he looked up and the window was closed.
“I did not understand how it could happen,” he said. “There was not blood, nothing that could point to a serious injury, no visual indication of the damage that had been done.”
He said his son was initially unconscious and not moving when he looked out but then he began crying.
It was around this point that Kevin Hennessy drove into the estate followed by his daughter. He saw the distressed father cradling his son and went over.
As Mr Hennessy had some first aid training, he gave his phone to his daughter Caoimhe to phone for an ambulance while he went to help. He said the boy’s father was “visibly upset” and his English was “not great”.
“There was a suggestion around me by bystanders that he fell out the top window… I did not look around me to see what was open or closed,” he said.
After Caoimhe made contact with ambulance control, he took the phone and said he was concerned because he could see swelling on the child’s head and the child was screaming in pain.
The transcript of the conversation confirmed the paramedic told him there was no ambulance available but also that Mr Hennessy was asked if the child had fallen from anything, and that he said the boy was “not up on anything anyway”.
It was decided the boy should be taken to the SouthDoc GP service on the Cork Road in Midleton. Mr Hennessy was asked if a car was available and he said he could drive the boy and his father. He confirmed that at SouthDoc, the child was examined by a doctor who said he should be brought to the emergency department of Cork University Hospital.
Mr Hennessy said he told the doctor he had tried for an ambulance and none was available so he would drive them to the hospital.
He said as he was pulling out, the little boy’s mother Aukse arrived at South Doc and he told Mr Martinaitis to tell his wife to follow them.
On the way, Mr Hennessy rang 999 again and got through gardaí to escort them through the heavy traffic which had formed on that bank holiday Monday.
The court heard from the Richard Walsh, the ambulance control “call taker” that day who was on duty with a dispatcher, Tom Magee. Mr Walsh said he received the call about the child falling. He outlined how he asked Mr Hennessy if there was anything the child could have fallen off. “What you are trying to ascertain is how far the casualty has fallen.”
He said he could hear the screaming in the background and asked if that was the casualty.
“If you hear a child is crying it means it is conscious and alert.”
He said he was told the child was on the lawn and that it was “not obvious that the child had fallen from anything”.
The inquest was told that Mr Hennessy told the controller that the child had a nasty bump on the head.
“My thought was that the child had a simple fall and bumped his head,” said Mr Walsh. “I was cognisant of the fact that we did not have an ambulance available in the area. I knew they were concerned.”
He said he told them to get to SouthDoc to “allay any fears they might have had”.
Mr Walsh was asked about his knowledge about the availability of ambulances.
He said in the control it was “everybody’s role to know what is happening on the day”.
Mr Walsh said in the east Cork area there was an ambulance on duty in Youghal, Midleton and Fermoy, but all were on calls and the nearest free appliance was in Cork City and would have taken 18-20 minutes to get there.
He confirmed there was an ambulance assigned to the call, but said that when the conversation with Mr Hennessy finished, he told the dispatcher the family were happy to take the child to SouthDoc.
“He (the dispatcher) would have been privy to my conversation as well.”
Mr Walsh was asked if there was a protocol observed in the ambulance service when dealing with situations where there are “communications issues” — in reference to the fact that Mr Martinaitis was not a native English speaker.
“(There is) no set protocol to the best of my knowledge,” said Mr Walsh. “We would assume the person making the call could speak for them… you are dependent on information being given to you.”
Mr Magee confirmed the Midleton ambulance, which was delivering a patient to a Cork City hospital, had become free but he said the call was cancelled when it was agreed the child was to brought to SouthDoc.
Evidence was also heard from the Dr Ger McLaughlin, the doctor on duty in South Doc.
He said he examined the child and found that all four limbs were moving, the child was conscious and alert, but that there were head injuries. He was also concerned when he heard suggestion the child may have fallen from a window and he said he had to operate on the presumption that he had.
“With the possibility that the child had fallen from the window, I felt he had no business being in SouthDoc,” he said.
“I indicated my intention to the father to call the ambulance. Mr Hennessy said they had called 999 and no ambulance was available and there would be a 40-50 minute wait.”
Dr Gemma Kelleher, consultant in emergency medicine at CUH, said Vakaris was “quite stable” in the resuscitating room, but “we still had a child who had scalp swelling”.
She said a scan of the child’s head showed he had “extensive” skull fractures.
She was asked by the coroner whether time was of the essence in getting him to the hospital.
She replied: “We had time because he was quite stable on arrival.”
The inquest continues next Tuesday.
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